Public health professionals analyze and develop programs that protect the health of individuals, families and communities in the United States and abroad. Using education, development of healthy lifestyles, research and program implementation, public health professionals are agents for disease prevention and health promotion.
When food poisoning or an influenza outbreak attacks a community, the “disease detectives” or epidemiologists are asked to investigate the cause of disease and control its spread. Epidemiology is the study and control of disease or injury patterns in human populations.
Epidemiologists do fieldwork to determine what causes disease or injury, what the risks are, who is at risk and how to prevent further incidences. They understand the demographic and social trends that result from disease and injury. The initial discovery and containment of an outbreak, such as avian flu or mad cow disease, often comes from epidemiologists.
Professionals in this field use statistical analysis, but their approach and methods are distinctly different than what biostatisticians use. Epidemiologists must take into account various hereditary, behavioral, environmental and health care factors; they also must make extensive use of the contributions of biological, clinical and other sciences, including techniques derived from biochemistry and molecular biology.
The United States is placing a high priority on building up the nation’s public health workforce. A career in public health opens the door to diverse opportunities in a variety of sectors such as federal, private and non-governmental organizations. What does this mean for you? It means that with a degree in public health, you’ll be in high demand—and on a career path filled with advancement opportunities.
Since this field is strongly interdisciplinary, students must learn not only quantitative skills (including biostatistics and computer applications), but also a broad array of methods for fostering health promotion and disease prevention and assessing the quality of health care.
You can search for schools in this field on the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health’s (ASPPH) website. SOPHAS is the centralized online application service for students applying to a school or program of public health accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). A complete list of accredited schools and programs can be found on the CEPH website.
Learn More About a Career in Epidemiology
- Watch a video profile about epidemiologists (in the Health Science category).
- Play two interactive online games, “Outbreak at Watersedge” and “Epidemic,” to better understand how important public health is.
- Learn more about the education needed for this career and read profiles of people working in this field.
- Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health
- American Public Health Association
- Council on Education for Public Health